by Jerry Richardson 12/3/14
The biblical account tells us that God had Adam and Eve ejected from the Garden of Eden lest they “…take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”. What exactly is the meaning of that statement?
In her excellent article, Two Trees of Eden, Anniel says the following to me in one of her comments:
What I find most interesting in this whole matter concerns the Tree of Life because it seems to be such an integral part of the story of Eden. I am serious in asking what happened to Eden and the trees after the Fall. That truly was the whole point that came from my study of creation. So far no one has even acknowledged the promise of our part in the Tree of Life, as set forth in the last chapter of Revelation. Care to write an article on it? —Anniel
This article is my attempt to address Anniel’s question: “…what happened to Eden and the trees after the Fall”? I wish to emphasize that I consider this discussion to be biblical speculation related to existing scripture.
Several scriptures in the Bible that very specifically talk about the “tree of life” and its location are found in Genesis and Revelation, here are two:
Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. —Genesis 2:9 NASB
‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’ —Revelation 2:7 NASB
I believe that the “tree of life” referenced in both Genesis and Revelation represents the same thing, whatever that may be.
Approaching Anniel’s question “…what happened to Eden and the Trees after the Fall”; I think it is necessary to address the nature of the two trees? If we could know what the two trees were, then we could perhaps better address what happened to them.
I believe the importance of the “two trees” lies in their metaphorical essence. I do not believe that we are discussing two “magical” fruit trees. Of course that does not mean that the two trees could not or did not physically exist. I think they did. And by the way, there is no discussion, in the Bible, of either tree being an “apple” tree.
The proper understanding of metaphor and how it is used in the Bible is very important in the context of this discussion.
Metaphors are used so extensively in our language that we are often unaware that we are using them. Here is the definition of metaphor from WordWeb Pro: Metaphor: “A figure of speech in which an expression is used to refer to something that it does not literally denote in order to suggest a similarity.”
The feature of similarity is important. The truth of a metaphor is to be found in the similarity. That truth is a type of equivalence called similitude. In other words, with a metaphor we have similitude-equivalence and not exact-equivalence.
I believe that the “tree of knowledge of good and evil” is unquestionably a metaphor even though I believe that this abstract object was matched by a real physical tree—symbolism has always been important to mankind.
The tree of “knowledge of good and evil” has often been interpreted by those eager to criticize the Bible as being some sort of put-down against learning and knowledge. This is so far-fetched that if it were not sometimes implied, it wouldn’t be worth addressing. The reason that it is far-fetched biblically is that God could not have logically commanded mankind to “subdue” the earth if He had actually not wanted them to learn about the earth. That would make God to be completely illogical, or to be a masochistic trickster.
So what happened to that “tree” after the Fall? In my opinion it continued, at least until it died or was cut down, to exist as a physical tree; but it lost its specialness as being associated with the “knowledge of good and evil” and was simply thereafter ignored; it became one of just many other similar trees. No more harm could be associated with it. The tree itself was never “good” or “evil”; it was a living, growing symbol of God’s only command to Adam and Eve.
With that aside, focus now on the “second tree”. What was/is that tree?
The thought has previously crossed my mind that the “tree of life” referenced in Genesis might be a metaphorical reference to Jesus Christ. Reflecting upon the above passages of scripture, I think that is correct. And the reason why is that in Revelation 2:7 Jesus is himself telling the churches that he will grant them to “eat of the tree of life.” Elsewhere Jesus referred to Himself metaphorically as “the bread of life.”
We know, per the Bible, that the saints (those saved) will have direct and personal access to both Jesus and the “tree of life”.
Here’s what the biblical commentator John Gill had to say:
will I give to eat of the tree of life; by which is meant Jesus Christ himself, in allusion to the tree of life in the garden of Eden; and is so called, because he is the author of life, natural, spiritual, and eternal; and because of his fruit, the blessings of life and grace, that are in him, of which believers may eat by faith, and which they find to be soul quickening, comforting, strengthening, and satisfying; and which are Christ’s gift to them, even both the food they eat, and the faith by which they eat, are his gifts. So Christ, under the name of Wisdom, is called the Tree of life, in Pro. 3:18; and this is a name which is sometimes given by the Jews to the Messiah. —John Gill
If we assume what a commentator such as John Gill advocates, that the “The tree of life” is a metaphorical reference to Jesus Christ, then a very simple, speculative answer to Anniel’s question is available.
There are two paradises pictured in the Bible. The first is the Garden of Eden described in the opening chapters of the book of Genesis; and the second is “new Jerusalem” mentioned in Revelation 3:12; and described in Revelation chapter 21.
There seems clearly to be a connection between the first and second paradises mentioned in the Bible:
After the Fall Adam and Eve hid themselves from the presence of God (Gen_3:8); at the restoration God dwells with them forever in his tabernacle. The Garden of Eden was a place without fear, pain, crying, and death; the new creation is a place where “there will no longer be death, or grief, or crying, nor will there be pain anymore” (v. Rev_21:4).
—Baker’s New Testament Commentary, Revelation 21:1-8, The New Jerusalem and The Tree of Life.
So my speculative answer to Anniel’s question, “…what happened to Eden and the trees after the fall” is the following:
- The Garden of Eden was a precursor of the “New Jerusalem”; hence it was not simply an earthly, material (physical) garden; it was a co-located spiritual and material garden.
- The “tree of life” was a manifestation of the presence of Jesus Christ.
- As a result of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, God withdrew His presence from the physical location of Eden. God (the triune God) includes God the Father, Jesus Christ, the “tree of life” and Holy Spirit, “the presence” of God.
- The Bible paints the picture of that withdrawal as follows:
therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life. —Genesis 3:23-24 NASB
The collocation of spiritual Eden and physical Eden was severed.
The only physical remains of Eden today is the location, presumed to be between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers somewhere in the vicinity of what today is Iraq, in the vicinity of Bagdad. The spiritual remains of Eden are co-located with Jesus Christ awaiting the return of Eden, the “New Jerusalem.”
The thorny theological question, for me, is why exactly would God prevent access to the “tree of life” after the Fall?
There appears to be something extremely unacceptable (perhaps unholy) to God for a person who is disobedient to God to be immortal (“live forever”). Indeed, the prime example we have of this from scripture is Satan. Satan is immortal (an angel) and he rebelled against God. We should accept, I suggest, as a premise that God views “sin” (disobedience) in a much more serious fashion than we as humans do.
God apparently does not see “sin” as just a temporary occurrence—our view is it happened, now it’s over, done, and forgotten—but God apparently views it as a permanent irreversible violation of His holiness. Hence an immortal being, such as Satan, who has sinned has no way on his own of undoing, or blotting-out, the act; or perhaps more likely has no desire to undo or repent of that act. Does that seem unintuitive?
We as mortals seem to assume that the emotions, desires, thoughts, feelings, commitments—mental, emotional, spiritual states—associated with mortals can simply be extrapolated to an immortal being by simple scaling—everything is the same, except it simply lasts forever. Why do we assume that?
The mathematician Georg Cantor should have disabused us from this questionable assumption with his demonstrations of the unintuitive nature of infinite sets. Cantor showed, for example, that an infinite-part of an infinite set is just as large as the entirety of the same infinite set—watch-out Euclidean Geometry students, in Cantor’s world a whole is not necessarily larger than any of its parts.
Here’s the speculative Biblical-analogy: For an immortal being, a one-time disobedience of God (sin) has an infinite quality about it; and that infinite quality spans eternity.
So, I believe that God prevented Adam and Eve’s access to Jesus, “The Tree of Life” because—timing is here again important—Jesus had not yet paid the price for their sin, on the second of the three trees in the Bible, the “tree” of Golgotha; and so if they received immortality from Him, which in a personal encounter would apparently have been God’s permitted outcome, they would have been unforgiven sinners for eternity—and continued to exist in virtually the same status as Satan.
So God prevented their untimely access to immortality and required them to pursue the path of reconciliation with Him (God), which I believe that they did but have no specific scripture to support this view. The path of reconciliation with God was first clearly demonstrated by Abraham:
And he [Abram] believed in (trusted in, relied on, remained steadfast to) the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness (right standing with God). [Rom. 4:3, 18-22; Gal. 3:6; James 2:23. —Genesis 15:6 AMP
Thus Abraham believed in and adhered to and trusted in and relied on God, and it was reckoned and placed to his account and credited as righteousness (as conformity to the divine will in purpose, thought, and action). [Gen. 15:6.] —Galatians 3:6 AMP
I conclude that the “Tree of Life” in what was once Eden is now in the “New Jerusalem”—no longer physically located on planet earth.
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